In Lake Worth (Florida), An Atheist’s Invocation Offered Thanks to Allah, Zeus, Satan, Buddha, Krishna, and Thor

Earlier this week, atheist activist Preston Smith delivered the invocation at the Lake Worth (Florida) City Commission meeting.

Not only did four of the five commissioners walk out before he had said a single word, Smith showed what happens when the door to giving invocations is wide open thanks to Christians wanting to pray at government meetings. (Blogger Lynn Anderson said that Commissioner Christopher McVoy remained in the room, as did the city manager and city attorney.)



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Responding to the Creationist Mother Who “Audited” an Evolution Exhibit at the Field Museum

The video below, part of The Atheist Voice series, discusses the Creationist mother who recently “audited” an evolution exhibit at Chicago’s Field Museum and how we can channel our frustration into something positive.



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Why We Can’t Be Sure If We Can Believe Yusuf Islam When He Sings “Peace Train” On His Current U.S. Tour

Via the Huffington Post’s religion channel, we learn that the folk-pop artist formerly known as Cat Stevens is currently on a tour of the United States. What we inexplicably don’t pick up from the article is why Stevens, who has gone by Yusuf Islam since the late 1970s, is persona non grata among many people who care about free speech (the HuffPo just gives us some vague allusions to “dragon-sized myths” and “unsavory controversies”).

I’d like to correct that oversight. We’re going to have to time-travel back to 1989.

Only a week after Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini issued an Islamic death sentence against Salman Rushdie for publishing the supposedly blasphemous novel The Satanic Verses, Stevens/Islam was asked about the affair.

Before an audience of London college students, he answered:

“[Rushdie] must be killed. The Qur’an makes it clear — if someone defames the prophet, then he must die.”

The next day, he walked back that statement by explaining that he had only meant to illustrate what the Qur’an says about blasphemers and apostates. Mr. Islam hadn’t personally advocated Rushdie’s execution, he said.

And at that point, he might still have deserved the benefit of the doubt (although why anyone would follow a religion with such barbaric, illiberal precepts remains, as always, an open question).



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The Rich Get Richer: Vatican Announces Discovery of Hundreds of Millions of Euros That Were “Tucked Away”

You know that feeling when you find a bit of cash that’s slipped between the sofa cushions or was otherwise misplaced? “Cool, I forgot about that!”

The Vatican is probably experiencing something similar right now, but to the tune of hundreds of millions of euros:



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There Are Humanists in Ferguson: The Humanist Social Justice Tradition

In the aftermath of the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, the Humanist movement has received a battery of well-deserved criticism. Sarah Jones writes that while “communities are organizing themselves to effectively fight for change… Atheist communities tend to be absent.” Anthony Pinn insists, “It’s time for humanists to stop being so lazy regarding issues of race violence.” Sikivu Hutchinson laments that “when it comes to anti-racist social justice, even the ‘kinder, gentler’ Humanist community often nods its head in well-intentioned sympathy, issues a press release, then shuffles into oblivion.”

I agree with the critique Jones, Pinn, and Hutchinson are offering. I believe they strike at the core of a fundamental problem with today’s organized atheist movement: a limited focus on a narrow slice of issues at the expense of a broader perspective committed to fighting injustice whatever its form. I’m with Pinn when he argues that “all too often, humanists… are simply content to tackle issues of science education, separation of church and state, and a variety of similarly arranged policy issues,” while taking a pass on anti-racism work. I cheer when I read that “Race and the consequences of our racist society must become a priority within the humanist movement.” It must. I’ve struggled within my own movement — my own congregation — to convey the urgency of acting now to end racial injustice. I could be doing more, the Ethical Society could be doing more, and the Humanist movement could be doing more.

Yet these excellent articles do not tell the whole story: they miss the work that is being and has been done by humanists to combat racial injustice and to further equality and dignity for all. If they give the impression that there are no organized Humanist groups, and no individuals motivated by Humanist values, working to end racial injustice, then they do Humanism a disservice. That narrative is not just wrong — it’s damaging, because it reinforces the popular idea that the only way to achieve lasting change and to find ethical improvement is through traditional religion.

That isn’t true. I know it’s not true because in the months since the killing of Michael Brown I have seen numerous examples of moral courage and commitment to change from people who have no traditional religion, and who are members or friends of the Ethical Society of St. Louis, where I work. As far as I am aware, we — a non-theistic congregation dedicated to Humanist values — are the only organization that might plausibly be referred to as an “atheist community” in the Ferguson area, and, far from being absent, we have been engaged — as an organization and through the efforts of individual members and friends — at multiple levels, from on-the-street civil disobedience to behind-the-scenes legal support.

Yes, the Society issued a statement on the shooting (the first public statement we’ve made on any issue in quite some time), which is hosted on the website of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, our region’s biggest newspaper: just for this we were denigrated as “race apologists.” But we did not then “shuffle off into oblivion,” as Sikivu Hutchinson fears we might.



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